Can MBA teach ‘hunch’ and ‘inspiration’?

I started this article with a huge dose of MBA bashing, but then I ran out of steam. I’ve been part of one such program for a while (which I’ve now decided to quit in order to study the same thing at a better school), but what I have come to understand, is that, there’s precious little the program per se is going teach you. Management pedagogy is made up essentially of the same old case studies, classic home truths, a lot of typical human behaviour deconstructed, disguised in jargon, perhaps even set to some arbid scale for good measure, and re-presented as brand new information to the student.

Most success stories that I ever read anywhere talk of how one guy bucked the trend against better counsel and went on to re-write the rules of the game (a bit of oversimplification, I admit, but this is broadly how they go). And it is these freshly minted rules (as of date of publication) that the students are fed. But this is where the difference lies in, say, a software designer and the software operator. The rules taught the poor sods what to do when presented with those precise circumstances sometime in their career. But what the rules were silent on was how to go about effecting the light-bulb moment that wrote those same rules.

Can MBAs include a module on “How to be a trailblazer”? Can inspiration be deconstructed, set to an alogorithm and thus made repeatable? Is there a management term for ‘hunch’? All my brouhaha here is essentially a rehash of an age old debate on the inherent conflict of management education. And since I seem pretty critical of the ‘education’ part of it, am I contending that the practical aspect is all that’s of any real use?

It’s something that’s puzzled the folk over at Harvard for a couple of decades, so I won’t pretend that I have an answer. Being fairly conservative, I’m loath to admit that theory is dispensable in this case, nor do I actually feel that way. What I do feel however, is that management education focusses too much on the process, so much so, that students start to think of it as a universal truth rather than a simple rule of thumb. And it is at this point that lateral thinking gets compromised. Which is sad because as evidenced by most success stories, that was what wrote the very rules these students are cramming.

It’s a massive tragedy if inspiration goes on to spawn automatons in its future generations. Kids shouldn’t have to drop out of college to create a Microsoft or Napster. The system itself should engender these revolutions by allowing students space for lateral thought rather than scramble to feed them MBA graduates when they turn into massive juggernauts in leagues of their own. Because the fact of the matter is that this is not a strictly technical skill, rather it is a highly composite skill which requires theoretical knowledge but not without a well-honed, abstract, intuitive sense. And so management education should adhere to the traditional meaning of ‘education’ which involves broadening the vistas of the mind, not equipping it with blinkers.

Well, that’s a lot of gyaan from an MBA-hopeful. If you’re reading this, please say a prayer that I make it to a good school to pursue another MBA from scratch. Amen.

Gauri Juneja is a student of MBA at a Delhi-based school.

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